Curtsies & Conspiracies by Gail Carriger
Published: November 2013 by Hachette Little, Brown & Co
Format: Paper Book
Length: 310 pages
Genre: Steampunk, Spy, Espionage, Paranormal, Young Adult, AU Historical
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Does one need four fully grown foxgloves for decorating a dinner table for six guests? Or is it six foxgloves to kill four fully grown guests?
Sophronia’s first year at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality has certainly been rousing! For one thing, finishing school is training her to be a spy (won’t Mumsy be surprised?). Furthermore, Sophronia got mixed up in an intrigue over a stolen device and had a cheese pie thrown at her in a most horrid display of poor manners.
Now, as she sneaks around the dirigible school, eavesdropping on the teachers’ quarters and making clandestine climbs to the ship’s boiler room, she learns that there may be more to a field trip to London than is apparent at first. A conspiracy is afoot–one with dire implications for both supernaturals and humans. Sophronia must rely on her training to discover who is behind the dangerous plot-and survive the London Season with a full dance card.
I have no idea why I like Curtsies & Conspiracies so much when nothing really happens. I had the same problem with this book’s predecessor, Etiquette & Espionage. The first book of the Finishing School Series felt like set up with a little bit of action thrown in at the end. The second book, Curtsies & Conspiracies, is a hunt for clues with a little bit of action thrown in at the end. And yet, I enjoyed it a lot. It is cleverly written, quirky, and amusing. It was interesting to watch Sophronia navigate her lessons as an intelligencer, move about the dirigible at night, and piece together a conspiracy plot while taking tea. It’s entertaining and I couldn’t put the book down but I kept waiting for things to come together, for that big climax. Instead, we’re left with a bit of a mess.
It would probably be correct to say that if you like spy novels and steampunk worlds, you’ll like the Finishing School Series. The steampunk setting adds a nice flavor to the book. I really like all the little funny names for the machines. (Like the oddgob.) It’s a little like the Disney Little Mermaid song Part of Your World – “I’ve got gadgets and gizmos aplenty; I’ve got whozits and whatzits galore”. The toys, as they say, are awesome. The world building is vivid. I especially like the mechanical maids and robots and the fact that the school is a huge dirigible. The characters are varied and unique but the cast may suffer from overpopulation. Some of the characters don’t really add anything to the story and just prove to be confusing with an already large cast to keep track of.
But the big draw for the Finishing School Series is that it is funny. There is widespread ridiculousness with everything from the names of objects to the names of people, the lessons the girl’s take, and the tongue in cheek foolery between the visiting Bunson’s evil genius boys and Mademoiselle Geraldine’s young ladies of quality. There is a steam powered metal sausage dog named Bumbersnoot, for heaven’s sake. Curtsies & Conspiracies is hilarious.
It is that humor and absurdity that saves the book. I’ve read both the first and second book of the Finishing School Series and have yet to see a cohesive plot the entire time. We don’t know what the mystery is and there is no plot resolution at the end of the books. Our characters are just mucking about in pretty dresses and being overly clever for 15 year old girls. We are presented with facts and events but with no ability to arrange them into a pattern and very little is really settled or revealed at the end of the books. About 3/4 of Curtsies & Conspiracies is Sophronia going about being ‘very special indeed’ and more than a bit of a Mary Sue perfect girl. Curtsies & Conspiracies was a witty, funny, and quick read. But that’s about it.